|The Orkney Islands
|Orkney is an archipelago in northern Scotland, 16 km (10 miles) north of the coast of Caithness. Orkney comprises approximately 70 islands, of which 20 are inhabited. The largest island, known as 'Mainland' has an area of 523.25 sq km (202 sq mi), making it the sixth largest Scottish island and the tenth-largest island in the British Isles. The largest settlement and administrative centre is Kirkwall.
The name "Orkney" dates back to the 1st century BC or earlier, and the islands have been inhabited for at least 8,500 years. Originally occupied by Mesolithic and Neolithic tribes and then by the Picts, Orkney was invaded and forcibly annexed by Norway in 875 and settled by the Norse. The Scottish Parliament then re-annexed the earldom to the Scottish Crown in 1472, following the failed payment of a dowry for James III's bride, Margaret of Denmark.
Orkney contains some of the oldest and best-preserved Neolithic sites in Europe, and the "Heart of Neolithic Orkney" is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. In addition to the Mainland, most of the islands are in two groups, the North and South Isles, all of which have an underlying geological base of Old Red Sandstone. The climate is mild and the soils are extremely fertile, most of the land being farmed. Agriculture is the most important sector of the economy and the significant wind and marine energy resources are of growing importance. There is an abundance of marine and avian wildlife on the islands.
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